Weekly Legends: Grinder Armor Mage

Wow. Just…wow. I honestly do not know when the last time I had this much fun playing a deck. If you follow either of my series you know that I have been on a huge control kick as of late. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but it could very well be because most of […]

Introduction

Wow. Just…wow. I honestly do not know when the last time I had this much fun playing a deck. If you follow either of my series you know that I have been on a huge control kick as of late. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but it could very well be because most of the truly innovative or interesting decks these days fall on the slow-game side of things. This week’s deck follows that trend, by bringing a card to legend I thought would absolutely see no play for any reason: Animated Armor. This card seems like a very gimmicky, weak four drop (which it is). However, like many cards in this deck, it becomes amazing when put into this grinder style build. This deck wants to go as long as possible, and every card in this matchup helps build towards that goal.

This deck is very, very finely tuned. As a deckbuilder, I wish I had thought of this myself because it is just that cool. At first glance this deck looks like a thrown together Reno deck without Reno. However, do not be fooled. Every single slot serves a very important purpose and is central to the game plan, which is to draw your opponent out as long as possible. You want to stall as much as you can and then wear your opponent down to nothing. This list is just an absolute value machine and can take on any deck in the game pound for pound. It can out-grind every control deck, but also has enough tools to outlast aggro. I even won a game where a Secret Paladin Divine Favored for nine. That is how strong this list is. I know I am gushing, but it is very rare where a deck comes along that truly feels unique. Yes, it is a Grinder/Fatigue Mage list, but it plays the role unlike anything I have seen before.

Key Cards

Duplicate

This is by far, not even remotely close, the best card in the deck. Duplicate is an absolutely insane tool that turns just about every card you have into a win condition/value machine. While you do want to be careful on what you’re copying (more on that below) just about every card in this deck is fantastic when you get two of them back into your hand. This is the card that really makes the entire deck tick, because not only is it inherent card advantage, it also gives you a lot more options and doesn’t pull any cards from your deck (which is also very important). In this way, it enables you to extend both the game and your card advantage while also keeping you ahead in the fatigue war.

When playing Duplicate you want to be careful about controlling what you’re going to get back. While you may be tempted to “live the dream” from time to time and get the biggest thing possible, you often just want to get a good value card. That can be anything from Jeweled Scarab to Antique Healbot to Animated Armor. All of those cards have a role, and getting two more of them is absolutely fine depending on the situation at hand. Your highest priority targets here are Ragnaros the Firelord (more on that later), Antique Healbot, Ethereal Conjurer and Animated Armor. However, even something like Emperor Thaurissan or Jeweled Scarab can help you win. It all depends on the matchup. Doomsayer is also great when facing down a board-control deck. Just remember to kill off anything you don’t want duplicated (I have killed off my own minions from time to time).

Brann Bronzebeard

Another card this deck could not function without, Brann Bronzebeard is a card with a ton of potential. There are so many targets for him in this deck, and they all are absolutely fantastic. When using Brann you never want to play him on curve on the off chance that he dies. He is so important to the end game that losing him can easily lead to a loss. The two ways you are going to use the dwarf are to draw extra cards (or rather put extra cards into your hand) or to heal. Healing is always your first priority, and I would say you want to use him with Antique Healbot 99.99999% of the time. While the bodies are not that relevant, adding something to the board and also grabbing a quick sixteen health can pull you back from the brink in a hurry.

For the games where your health is fine, you want to drop Brann alongside card draw. Both Ethereal Conjurer and Jeweled Scarab are perfect with the three drop legend, filling up your hand with useful cards that help you stretch out the game ever further. Drawing two cards is great, but discovering two really gives you access to some powerful tools. Beyond that, Mind Control Tech works really well for snatching two minions from your opponents board. Whatever you do, just understand Brann’s purpose and never drop him down too early or for no reason. You may not think you need the extra cards or healing, but in most games there will come a time when you do.

Animated Armor

This deck’s namesake, Animated Armor is a very niche card that is very strong in this list. On paper the card is a 4/4 for four with taunt (since your opponent has to remove it before they can do any real damage). That is quite an underwhelming card that would see almost no play. However, its ability takes all damage and converts it to one, making it much stronger than a taunt. This means it stops every single burn spell, from Kill Command to Crackle, takes out Hunter’s hero power, and also had the added bonus of stopping things like fatigue from hurting you. This card is one of the best “grind” tools at your disposal, simply because there is no way around it unless your opponent has a silence or you are at really low life. Save this card throughout the game, and then run it out at the end to seal the deal.

This is not a card you want to play anytime during the early turns of the game unless you have a Duplicate to back it up. Just like Brann Bronzebeard, you really don’t want to risk this card dying since it is, in a way, one of your primary win conditions. Typically you only want to play the armor when your opponent is running low on cards or is out of removal. However, it is also a great tool when you’re ahead on board to stop any pesky top decked burn from things like Hunter or Aggro Shaman, and you can run it out behind taunts to force your opponent to have AOE. It may seem trivial, but the ability on this card is so strong that your opponent will do everything they can to get rid of it. Even in games where it doesn’t stick around, it almost always takes their focus off of you, which is exactly what you want.

Ethereal Conjurer

Though it gets lost in the panorama of all the other cards, I would say that Ethereal Conjurer is the second most important card in this list behind Duplicate. This card just oozes value, netting you anything from more secrets to burn to extra AOE to added removal. Remember, discover nets you a class card four times more than a neutral card, meaning this is almost always going to get you a Mage spell. Mage has some of the best spells in the game, which means this card can always help you get something good for the situation at hand. For this reason, it is often wise to play the conjurer into a Duplicate. That engine is one of the best ways to make the game go long. Not only do you get four 6/3’s for five (which in itself is going to have to be answered immediately) but you also get four “free” Mage spells. I have had many games where I would win by just getting more and more Freeze from my conjurers. I have also won more than a few games with a clutch Fireball or Pyroblast. While you could run Azure Drake in this spot, remember this is a grinder deck. Drawing from the air is always better than taking cards from your deck.

Ragnaros

I’ll be honest, I do not like Ragnaros. Not one bit. Not only is he the best (and the original) Big Game Hunter target, but his power has really been thinned out due to the high amount of deathrattle minions and swarm decks. However, in this list there is not a better finisher you could ask for. The reason for that is two fold. First, Ragnaros is extremely proactive. He is basically a reoccurring removal spell strapped onto the back of an 8/8 monster. While he may not always hit the target that you want, his potential to clear a minion a turn is very, very strong. I have won many games because the firelord cleared out a key large minion that I did not have an immediate answer for. That being said, when playing with rag you want to always plan for him to hit the wrong target (unless you are praying to RNGjesus). This is a good mindset to have because it will help you know when to put him down and when other options are better. Remember, the less minions on the board the better he is.

The second (and much more important) mode for Rag is how strong he is with Duplicate. This is by far my most duplicated card in the deck, so much so that many games I will hold onto the second Duplicate (or Mad Scientist) just to make sure I get two rags. This strategy works very well because Ragnaros is a card that your opponent is almost always going to kill the turn he comes down. In this way, playing with the secret is a win/win. You either get to keep him around (which is what you want) or you get two more. Those two extras are two more giant threats as well as two more solid removal spells. Once you get him duplicated, just keep dropping him down. It is very unlikely your opponent will have answers to all three.

Matchups

How to play against the five decks I see the most on ladder.

Zoo

The first of two Warlock appearances on my list, Zoo continues its stay on the forefront of the ladder. This deck is strictly in the swarm Sea Giant variety these days, and you better understand that when you see a turn one Flame Imp. While you can deal with most of Zoo’s problems cards pretty easily, you just never want to be caught completely off guard. The rule of this game is to just spend all of your time clearing the board and run them low on cards. Zoo is only strong when they have the board, and if they don’t have the board they really cannot do all that much. Just stall as much as you can. In fact, most of this game you don’t need to attack at all, just let them slowly kill themselves with Lifetap.

As with any game, you always want to be aware of ways they can dodge your removal. This of course refers to the numerous deathrattle minions that your opponent has access to. In order to set up your AOE (which is very important) you need to do your best to pop all deathrattle before dropping them. For instance, if you are planning on a turn six Blizzard or a turn seven Flamestrike, then you need to start popping open deathrattle in a way where they will do the least amount of damage. Another important rule is to always be aware of Loatheb as well. The fungus-lover is not run in all Zoo decks, but it is definitely in most of them. He can seal the game for Zoo if you are behind (since you run on spells), so be proactive with your clearing so as to not fall victim to his ability.

Secret Paladin

This is a matchup that I thought would be a nightmare, but it actually has been very good for this deck. My initial fear came from Divine Favor, which I thought would absolutely obliterate a deck like this that only cares about drawing and keeping cards in hand. However, when playing against Secret you are fine as long as you switch your game style. Instead of playing a strict fatigue deck you actually want to operate much more like Freeze Mage. That means you just want to stall to get the most out of your Ice Block. While you only have one, it is very important to keep that going as long as possible. In that same vein, try to get the most out of your AOE. While Paladin has some very strong ways to flood the board, there is little they can do with just one minion.

Always be aware of Secret Paladin’s buffs. Just like with Zoo, these are the small ways that they can dodge your removal and AOE, which can be the difference between winning and losing a lot of games. Redemption and Avenge are the most powerful, and you should attack their face (to check for Noble Sacrifice) before committing to any hard removal. Either that, or just be ready for either of the two secrets. Redemption is usually easy to play around, but can be a real problem if you hit the wrong card. Always kill small minions first. Avenge really piles on the damage and can save their minions from damage spells. Try and get rid of their boards with AOE when possible.

Control Priest

This deck just continues to rise in popularity. LOE really took the classic Control Priest build and forged it into a new beast that has a good answer for just about everything (thanks Entomb). This, like all heavy control matches, is going to be very in your favor. While they grind pretty well, most of their spells are removal, which doesn’t do all that much against your Duplicates. In addition, they also like to draw cards which ensures they are going to hit fatigue first. Get the most use out of your discover cards, and try to trigger them with Brann here, since your health will almost always be high. This is going to go very long, and you need to save Polymorph for Ysera since she is one of the few cards that can beat you.

The most important part of this matchup is getting them to use Entomb on your sub-par minions. That may sound like a very hard task (why would they use Entomb on sub-par minions?) but anything that is not Ragnaros the Firelord is a subpar minion, even Emperor Thaurissan. The 8/8 (or three 8/8’s) is the way you are going to win this matchup. While Priest may have an answer for one or two, if you bait their removal through the game you should. Entomb is one of the only cards that completely negates Duplicate. Know this, and count Priest’s removal spells as the game goes on. They should break before you do, and when that happens, set up the firelord as best as you can.

Renolock

A deck that I really enjoy, Renolock is extremely favored. In fact, I would say that it is probably your best matchup. Not only are they going to hit fatigue long before you, but most of the time they don’t fully understand what you are until it is too late. This means they will often play Reno Jackson too early or add too much to the board into your AOE. Not only that, but they draw cards by nature, which falls right into your gameplan. Renolock is a very strange deck that runs very little threats and a lot of stalling and spells. Just like Zoo, it is important to always be aware of what their big finishers are. Thaddius will eventually come to town, and Mal’ganis and Dr. Boom will always make an appearance. Big Game Hunter deals with one of those, and you can usually stall out the other. For the last, you typically want to look for hard removal off of your Ethereal Conjurers.

This game is basically all end game. That means you need to take it very, very slow. While you may want to use removal in a turn or not take damage, if it isn’t absolutely essential you need to hold off. This type of resource management is always important in a control deck, but it is the way you win this game. One example of that is holding Acidic Swamp Ooze. While this card may seem pretty useless, it gets rid of Jaraxxus’ weapon. That is huge because it basically invalidates the damage potential and board clear ability of the legendary demon. Yes, he can still pump out 6/6 after 6/6, but it makes him a lot easier to deal with. To managed him you want to try to get some type of board presence toward the end of the game. This will allow you to keep up some pressure and deter them from playing Jaxx until they have no choice or are almost in fatigue.

Midrange Druid

Though down in popularity, Midrange Druid is still making a splash on the charts. There are a couple of common versions these days (some run Raven Idol while others like Sir Finely Mrrgglton) but all of them have the same core cards the deck has always had. They play some big minions, try to get one to stick, and then end the game with the combo. You just need to prevent that from happening at all costs. You want to stall, but here you want to be a lot more careful than other matches. Do everything you can to clear, because even one card can become lethal at anytime. Always get good use out of your taunts as well because Druid has very few ways to punch through them. The way you stall here is by getting them to use one of their combos on clearing or putting on extra pressure. Once that happens you can freely play out minions and take over the late game. Also, never be afraid to play Animated Armor in anticipation of their combo. While it can be easy to clear, they have to spend time clearing it before they can get back to trying to kill you. That extra turn it buys is usually very valuable.

Mulligan Guide

Mulliganing this deck is very strange and very hard to explain. The reason is that there are so many situational hands and so many situational cards. However, at the base you really are only looking for Mad Scientist. This is the card you want to start every single game with. Beyond the secret giver, a small list of “must keeps” are Acidic Swamp Ooze, Jeweled Scarab, Frostbolt and Arcane Intellect. On the flip side, there are many cards you don’t want to keep, such as your secrets, Brann Bronzebeard, Big Game Hunter, Polymorph. Everything that costs five or more should be thrown back.

I am not going to spend that much time going over situational cards because it changes so much from game to game. For instance, many of the rules I laid out above are not set in stone. In some matches I will keep five drops like Sludge Belcher based on my opponent and what else is in my hand. Sometimes I will keep Duplicate if I have a gameplan that involves it, or in some games I’ll throw back certain “must keeps” to look for other, more important cards. It can get confusing, but just play to your other cards and your opponent’s class as much as you can. Three situational keeps are Mind Control Tech, Doomsayer and Deathlord. Doomsayer can be a good early keep as turn two removal against aggro decks, and both MCT and Deathlord are great against any swarm aggro deck like Aggro Shaman, Hunter, Paladin and Zoo

Conclusion

What a lovely, lovely deck! Pop culture references aside (especially for movies I haven’t seen) this deck is amazing. Absolutely amazing. I will say that it is one of the hardest decks I have ever played, but I just think that makes it more rewarding. I always look for ways to keep this game fresh (one of the primary reasons I started my Brewmaster series) and this really hits that spot. I hope this brings you as much fun as it brought me, and I hope things are going well. Until next time, may you always duplicate Ragnaros.